“Getting there can be half the fun!” I think that’s a phrase many in the miles & points world can relate to (and if you can’t relate, I totally get it — feel free to skip this post!).
When it comes to redeeming miles & points for premium cabin travel, I’ve always been sort of obsessed with “maximizing value.” Admittedly the definition of that changes over time.
Back in the day I defined that quite simply: redeeming as few miles as possible for as many hours as possible in top premium cabin products. Why fly from Los Angeles to Tokyo if you could fly from Los Angeles to Frankfurt to Bangkok to Tokyo, for example? 😉
But hundreds of flights and millions of flown miles later, my impression of the perfect amount of travel time has changed a bit. That’s probably largely because I’m older, and I don’t have the travel stamina I once had.
In this post I thought it would be fun to talk about a topic that some will surely be happy to geek out over — is there an ideal flight length when flying first or business class?
Are longer first & business class flights always better?
When you’re planning a premium cabin trip, what’s the marginal enjoyment from extra flying? Is a 16 hour Emirates first class flight twice as fun as an eight hour Emirates first class flight? Is the world’s longest flight (on Singapore Airlines between Singapore and New York) the world’s most fun business class flight?
After more long haul flights in my life than I can count, I’m not sure I agree anymore that longer necessarily equals better. When it comes to enjoying long haul flying, my general perception is as follows:
- The first few hours are always most enjoyable, as you typically have a fantastic meal and are still “fresh”
- Beyond that, the marginal enjoyment diminishes significantly — you might be full, tired, and a bit hungover, and if you’re anything like me, you might not be a great airplane sleeper
- In my experience flights are almost always more fun when you’re starting your vacation rather than heading home
- There’s more marginal enjoyment to be had with each hour for airlines with cool amenities, like bars, showers, etc.; for example, as much as I love Cathay Pacific first class, you’re pretty much confined to your seat (the horror!) 😉
With that in mind, I think I’ve figured out my ideal flight lengths. In other words, beyond these limits I get very little marginal enjoyment out of flights. The perfect first class flight is one where you can both enjoy the experience and arrive well rested… at least in most cases.
Perfect overnight flight length: ~12 hours
To me the perfect overnight flight length is 12 hours. If I really want to enjoy the flight, I typically like to stay awake for the first four hours, at least on an ultra long haul flight. That way I can enjoy a meal service, which takes maybe two hours, and then unwind with a movie or enjoy any other onboard amenities.
I’m not much of a sleeper, though ideally I’d get roughly six hours of sleep.
And that leaves me with two hours before landing to watch a couple more sitcoms, freshen up, and have a pre-arrival snack.
Most Cathay Pacific flights from the United States to Hong Kong are ~14-15 hours (not that I’ve taken many of those lately!), which is great, but usually the last couple of hours I’m ready for the flight to be over. Not that I’m not enjoying it, but rather that I’m not sure I’m happier onboard than I’d be in a “real” bed in a hotel, or at a “real” restaurant.
Perfect daytime flight length: ~8 hours
This might surprise some people, but I almost think the perfect daytime flight length is 7-8 hours, especially since I usually avoid sleeping on daytime flights. For example, an overnight Emirates flight from New York to Milan? That’s way too short to maximize. A daytime Emirates flight from Milan to New York? That’s perfect.
You can enjoy a nice meal…
Then enjoy whatever onboard amenities there are and watch a movie…
And then have another meal before landing…
You can maximize your libation consumption onboard, and then arrive having had a great flight, even if you didn’t get any rest. And since you (hopefully) land in the afternoon or evening, you won’t have issues with checking into a hotel, and can go to bed at a reasonable hour.
So even if you have an amazing bed in first class, I don’t think maximizing a first class experience even has to include using it.
To 99% of people this probably sounds like a silly topic. But to those of us who actually enjoy the process of flying between places, I think it’s an interesting thing to discuss.
Admittedly there are lots of other factors that play into the “perfect” flight length — whether you’re traveling alone or with friends, how well rested you have to be when you land, exactly what time the flight leaves, whether you’re heading on vacation or returning, etc. But the above is my general philosophy, I suppose. I’m curious to hear how others feel.
If flying a top premium product, what do you think is the perfect flight length? What factors into that decision?